Gauchos thinking pink

Feb. 24, 2009

BY ALEX PAVLOVIC, SANTA BARBARA NEWS-PRESS

The UCSB women's basketball team has taken the floor in blue and gold 25 times this season, but tonight, it's all about thinking pink.

To promote breast cancer awareness, the Gauchos (17-8) have turned their non-conference game against Oregon State into a Pink Zone event.

Designed to raise awareness for the fight against breast cancer, the event is part of a global initiative throughout the college game to raise funds for the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund, a movement that has gained increased exposure since the passing of Yow earlier this year.

"Women's basketball programs across the country have become, in a lot of ways, the most visible women's entities on college campuses," coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. "It's great, and part of what comes with that is the responsibility to do some good."

Gottlieb has a personal connection to the movement, having met Yow years ago in a hospitality room at a Final Four. Gottlieb was just a young assistant then, but she ended up spending the entire men's championship game seated next to Yow, listening to the Hall of Fame coach tell stories and discuss her experiences as a coach of the Olympic team.

"She was just such a giving person," Gottlieb said. "I was a nobody and she was just so generous with her time and gracious enough to sit there and talk with me."

After battling the disease for over 20 years, Yow died in January, but much like former NC State men's coach Jim Valvano, she has become a symbol for a widespread movement. Valvano gave a memorable speech at the 1993 ESPY's, where he announced the creation of the V Foundation, which is dedicated to finding a cure for cancer. Yow gave her inspirational speech posthumously, recording a 25-minute video that was played for more than 1,400 friends and colleagues at her funeral.

"She went through something really publicly for the sake of making someone else's life better and making the world more aware of breast cancer," Gottlieb said. "What (Yow and Valvano) both did was to take on a very personal and difficult battle publicly, for the sake of raising awareness. She's touched more people than she ever could have touched otherwise."

The Gauchos have already participated in a couple of Pink Zone events, and they embraced the Think Pink attitude in a win over Cal Poly last week when many of the players wore pink headbands and several wrapped their ankles in pink tape.

"We loved the whole experience, and it was a lot of fun to go out there in pink," guard Meagan Williams said. "It's different and it makes you feel like you're being supportive."

The Gauchos took time out of practice earlier this month to design special warm-up shirts, and several players added slogans and inspirational passages to personalize their designs.

"I wrote 'I'm grateful for every new healthy day that I have' because my grandmother had breast cancer and I've heard about what she went through, so I'm grateful that I'm healthy," senior Whitney Warren said. "The more you're aware of something and the more you truly understand it, the more you get from it and the more beneficial it can be."

The shirts will be sold at halftime, with a portion of the proceeds going to help raise breast cancer awareness. Tickets for the game will be $1, and the baseball team will also contribute to the event by wearing pink baseball caps during a 2 p.m. game against UCLA.

Once action gets underway at the Thunderdome, UCSB's main focus will turn to a tough Oregon State (15-10) squad, but Gottlieb doesn't want her players to forget that they're getting a rare opportunity to play for more than just a win.

"We've talked about how we have a chance as a group to maybe make a statement for a bigger cause," she said. "I try any time I can to use my role and position as leader of this group to share with them lessons that go beyond basketball and this is a great opportunity to do that."

e-mail: apavlovic@newspress.com